Short for King Remembered in Time, Big K.R.I.T.’s rap moniker is a reference to legacy, but the 35-year-old is just as focused on the present. Since releasing his debut mixtape, See Me On Top, in 2005, the rapper, born Justin Lewis Scott, has released 23 solo projects and built a loyal, cult fan base while establishing himself as one of the most dynamic artists the South has to offer.
Born and raised in Mississippi, K.R.I.T. began getting serious attention from fans and critics alike with the release of his 2010 mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. He signed a deal with Def Jam Recordings that same year. After releasing multiple critically acclaimed projects on Def Jam, K.R.I.T., citing changing relationships at the label, chose the independent route and departed in 2016.
Now, he’s got his own label, Multi Alumni. Years removed from feeling the pressure to make stream-friendly records and commercial singles, K.R.I.T.’s leaned into his status as a stalwart of the underground, a status he reaffirmed with Digital Roses Don’t Die, a “love story” album he dropped this past February. Coated in 1970’s-esque funk and soul, as well as his own nimble songwriting, the project is just the latest sign of his evolution as a rapper, singer and producer.
This year, he’s focused on touring and expanding his label and roster he has brought on board. He has also been collaborating with a lot more artists. K.R.I.T. has plenty of ideas and concepts in the vault, but he’s taking his time when it comes to his next project.
Connecting with XXL on a chilly February evening, just one week ahead of the release date for his Digital Roses Don’t Die album, K.R.I.T. discusses Southern rap, his respect for André 3000, life as the head of a record label, the makings of a great lyricist and the human being within.
Big K.R.I.T.: Oh, man. Just life. I think everybody’s been going through a lot. Even going from 2021 to 2022 was just an adjustment, right? It’s like normally back in the day before COVID, new year, new things I’m going to do, boom, boom, boom. It was kinda like, You know what? I’m still in the house. You’re still just trying to figure things out here and there. But it’s just dialing in, starting to concentrate more on finalizing the album. What that feels like. What a tour looks like.
At this point in my career, [it’s about] what performing looks like, and really what kind of message am I trying to send to people. Because we all been through a lot in the last few years, man. And so, for me, it was just thinking about all that along with the rollout and stuff, too. Just trying to be as authentic in myself as I possibly can.
That sounds very wholesome.
How would you describe your place in hip-hop right now? Is it different from the place where you wanted to be when you were starting out?
It’s hard to explain, man, because it was a lot of me trying to prove myself because of where
I was from. I’m from Mississippi. So, I had to do a lot of traveling, a lot of interacting with people in order to prove my capacity to do music, not only on a production level, but on a rapping level, and be very stern in that not only can I produce, but I am a lyricist and a top-tier lyricist and I’m from Mississippi. So, it was that. I had to push and it became a lot of aggression, a lot of frustration at times because of the geography lottery.
The music industry tailors itself more to vacation destinations and not necessarily towards places. It might be a small town that people are unaware of. So, that created this narrative for me to always feel like I needed to prove myself. And it didn’t matter what room I was in. It didn’t matter how much music I put out or how creative I got. It was just to prove myself. And I found myself at this moment, I think it was probably after Cadillactica going into 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time, where I didn’t really care about proving myself anymore because I had done so much music. We toured and we had seen the love and we had the experience of being with a label and not being with a label and everything being independent. And I’m just doing what I love to do. That was enough.